Unraveling Runaway Medical Malpractice Verdicts in the Shadow of Social Inflation

by | Jan 25, 2024


In the intricate world of legal battles, a menacing phenomenon has emerged — runaway jury verdicts in medical malpractice cases. These colossal judgments, often directed at the medical establishment, represented by the defendant — cast a shadow over the health industry as a whole.

With the stage set by the governments handling of the pandemic, social inflation becomes a powerful force, with the ability to reshape the landscape of medical malpractice litigation.

The Unseen Fallout: Social Inflation’s Ripple in Medical Malpractice

When unfortunate medical conditions, , a complex healthcare system, and jurors with a welfare-mindset converge, the outcome can be a staggering verdict that reverberates through the medical community. We saw a number of such verdicts in 2023, including a landmark decision in May, with a Pennsylvania jury granting $183 million to the family of a boy born with brain injuries due to a delayed C-section, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.The largest award to a single plaintiff in the state’s history.

Other significant awards include:

  • $43.5 million awarded to former a NFL player, who sued for complications after surgery.
  • $29,715,077 granted to an Iowa couple in a case for birth injuries leading to brain damage.
  • $25 million awarded to a man in after a leg injury resulted in a below-the-knee amputation.
  • $34 million granted to a Baltimore family following brain damage from an emergency C-section.
  • $31 million awarded to a Michigan family involving brain damage after a delayed C-section.
  • $19 million granted to a Minnesota family suing Essentia Health for neglect.

These judgments, often born out of juror activism , seek to make an example of medical organizations, with excessive damages aiming to punish them and ostensibly prevent similar perceived mishandling of crises in the future.

The Pandemic as Catalyst: Anger and Social Inflation

The handling of the recent pandemic has contributed to societal discontent, which finds an outlet in the courtroom drama of medical malpractice cases. This discontent has become a driving force behind the surge in runaway verdicts. Social inflation, in this context, is not just about monetary values; it embodies the collective emotional response seeking retribution for perceived wrongs.

Navigating the Insurance Dilemma

The palpable impact of runaway verdicts extends to the insurance sector, where providers grapple with the transfer of risk. The rising cost of substantial verdicts places an immense strain on both insureds and insurers alike.

The exponential increase in these judgments and the sensation that surrounds them leads to elevated insurance rates and a contraction in capacity.

Strategies for Course Correction: A Nuanced Approach

A new approach is needed for defense strategies in medical malpractice casesTo move to reverse this trend, some legal analysts believe a nuanced approach is imperative. With defense strategies in medical malpractice cases moving away from complete denial —to demonstrate Instead; a willingness to accept reasonable responsibility, substantiated by facts and calculations— a more balanced outcome is likely.

Humanizing medical organizations becomes paramount, shedding light on the individuals behind the healthcare facade who contribute to communities and add value to patients’ lives. The use of what’s known as ‘Reverse Reptile Theory’, acknowledging shared responsibilities for safety by both parties; can counteract the emotional sway that often tips the scales toward colossal verdicts.

Addressing damages appropriately also involves providing the jury with a more reasonable anchor number early in the process. This not only counters emotional demands but also underscores the importance of a factual assessment over emotional responses.

In essence, the challenge posed by runaway jury verdicts in medical malpractice, fueled by social inflation, necessitates a recalibration of legal strategies. By acknowledging the emotional and logical dimensions of the human psyche, coupled with a nuanced defense approach, the health industry may see a shift towards more equitable and just outcomes.

Michael Richards

Michael Richards

President, Westwood Insurance Group

Michael began his insurance career over twenty years ago, working with a risk purchasing group, giving him a wealth of experience in both medical malpractice insurance and captives. Since founding the Westwood Insurance Group in 2001, Michael has developed solid relationships with many underwriters serving the healthcare and senior living marketplaces and is able to effectively help commercial agents with coverage for their clients

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